Should You Use A Popup Subscription Box On Your Blog?

By March 8, 2013 June 28th, 2015 Marketing Insights & Strategy
Should You Use A Popup Subscription Box On Your Blog?

Ugh. I hate those popups! I bet you do too. Or, if hate is too strong a word, mild annoyance may suffice.

But doesn’t it seem like every site has one?

And you’re torn between the camp that tells you “it works!” and the camp that tells you “I’d never, ever, in a billion years and even if you were the last blog on earth sign up with one of those boxes.”

But you want to build your email list, so what’s a marketer to do?

Well, I’m not going to tell you. But I am going to tell you what I’ve done, what worked for me, and my opinion on the matter based on results I’ve seen and feedback I’ve gotten.

Popups: Why We Hate Them

I think it’s important, before you decide on any tactic, to understand the objections.

When it comes to popups, they’re often associated with spam, scams and advertising.

We got smart enough to block ads on sites so advertisers built a better mousetrap and showed them over sites. Of course, we can block popups now too, but they still persist in many forms and configurations.

And who isn’t offering some free download for the price of an email address? “Give something away” has become a marketing mantra and everyone has at least a few pages worth of an eBook for that purpose.

I don’t know about you but I have a very large folder full of free downloads. Some I wanted, and joined the list just to get them. Some I didn’t, but I wanted to be on the list and I got sent “the free thing”. I lie to myself and say that I’ll eventually read them all.

Of course, a pretty sad number of the ones I have read are junk.

So to some extent we associate those popups with their offers – the free things we probably aren’t going to read because if we did, we’d find it would probably suck anyway.

Finally, there’s the intrusion factor. When I visit a blog, I do it to read a specific piece of content that drew me there. One sentence in, the box floats up over the screen and I have to dismiss it (or sign up, but I’m too irritated about being interrupted to do that).

I’ve never met anyone who said, “Too bad that blog didn’t have a popup, or I might have signed up.”

But I know plenty of people – including me – who roll their eyes at the mere mention of one.

So we have objections, and they’re justified. The question is whether we can be smart marketers and get around them in order to use popups effectively.

The Problem Is That They Work

By “work” I mean “get people to sign up”.

It seems that in spite of our objections, statistics have proven out the fact that we still sign up when those boxes appear.

Marcus Sheridan of The Sales Lion wrote a great post on the topic of popups and makes the point that many of us don’t use popups on our blogs because we don’t like them. But “what we like” as a personal preference shouldn’t dictate “what we do” as effective marketers.

As one of those who falls squarely in the “I don’t like them” camp, I resisted using a popup for a long time. I wasn’t going to sell out!

My husband and business partner insisted that we have one. He’s the rational thinker in the room.

So I tested out a few – hated them all – finally succumbed to one – and guess what?

People signed up.

Can you say conflicted emotions? How could something so objectionable actually work? Who were these crazy people falling for my popup? But… awesome! New subscribers!

In the two months since I installed the popup, we’ve seen a steady increase in subscribe rate.

It hasn’t been magical – we aren’t adding an exponential number of subscribers every day – but I can see the analytics and I can tell you that the numbers don’t lie. They’ve gone up. More importantly, they’ve gone up specifically thanks to the popup. On average, the popup is responsible for about half of our subscriber growth on any given day.

But here’s the other important detail: we’re not giving anything away (yet!) and people are still subscribing.

So I’ve knocked out one of the common objections right there: people will subscribe via a popup even if you don’t bribe them. I’m curious to see what happens when we do have our first giveaway. Sounds like a good topic for a follow-up post.

How To Eliminate The “Annoying” From Popups

I still hate them – in that emotional way that is so hard to squash. I still cringe a bit when I admit that I use one.

But I have no plans to get rid of it. Until my stats prove otherwise, I’m going to do what works.

But there are a couple of things I’ve adjusted and a few things people have said – some directly to me, some as a general comment on the subject – that have affected how I use the popup.

Based on my experiences, here are a few tips for you to try.

1. Make it benefit-driven. Whether you’re giving something away or just asking for the email address, you still need to tell people what’s in it for them. When I first experimented with the popup, it was pretty generic. It did very little. But when I added a short list of “here’s what you’ll get”, that’s when I really saw the number of subscribes go up.

2. Watch the frequency. Popups that appear every single time I visit a blog really are annoying and disruptive – especially on blogs I visit daily or frequently. If you want regular readers, you need a blog for them and not just for the potential subscriber you could get. Remember, that subscriber is probably going to be a regular reader! I set the popup on this blog to appear every 60 days. It’s cookie-based, so it will only bug someone once every 60 days, assuming they don’t delete their cookies. So far, nobody has complained but people have mentioned that they don’t want to be bugged on every single visit.

3. Consider the timing. The popup I use can be set to show up the moment someone hits the page, or it can be delayed for a specified amount of time. It can also bet set to pop up when someone reaches the end of the post. I like this option because that means I’ve given someone the chance to read the post and decide whether the content is good before asking them to sign up. I don’t have enough history to tell you whether a quick popup or a delayed popup is more effective, but I can tell you anecdotally that someone just recently mentioned this very point to me, and said she appreciated that she had a chance to read the post before signing up.

4. Be mindful of mobile. Few things are as frustrating as getting stuck on a mobile site that has a popup that’s impossible to close. That means the content is impossible to read. That means I leave and don’t come back. I complained talked about this at length in a previous post so you can read the details there, but it’s something you absolutely must pay attention to.

5. Make your offer good. For the sake of aspiring popup users everywhere, do us all a favor and make sure your giveaway is worth its salt. It’s your reputation at stake. What’s the point of building an email list if people see you as a scammer or just someone who doesn’t deliver? A 30-second talking-head video, a ten page “eBook” (two of which are title pages, one a credit page and two for end covers) or one of those yawning email courses that you clearly dumbed down from a couple of blog posts is not a good offer. In fact, part of the reason why we don’t have an offer yet is because we’re still obsessively editing and making sure it’s not an eye-roller. It has to be good. We don’t plan to disappoint our readers and subscribers by doing the cheap-bribe thing and you shouldn’t either.

Will It Work For You?

There’s only one answer to that question: try it!

Get over your emotional objections, stop worrying about “the giveaway” and just try it. It takes a few minutes to set up and you can start tracking analytics to see if your subscription rate increases.

You can test timing and styles.

You can test frequency.

Most importantly you can stop wondering about whether popups work and know whether popups work – for you, which is really all that matters.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. Do you use a popup? How has it worked for you? What are your best-practices? Have you ever used one and given up? Are you still resisting? What are your objections or concerns?